May 25, 2017

Goosebumps #33 The Horror at Camp Jellyjam

Judging a Book by its Cover

Would you look at that, I am finally back here doing a review of one of the original series books. I've only been promising to do this since... last fall? Something like that. Anywhere, here it is. Lets go.

First of all I would like to nominate this as the most truly unsettling Goosebumps cover of all time. Just look at that person. The glaring eyes. The too big grin. The pants pulled up to the nipples. I was trying to play the gender of this person though I guess such things are less relevant in this day and age. I would say it's kind of androgynous but really I think drawing is so inhuman as to make considering a gender for it useless. What this thing is, is just creepy as fuck. Like it's staring into your soul and getting ready to consume it.

But hey, don't let the creep get you down. This book boasts a free decal of doom on the cover. Just what is a decal of doom? Well I don't remember, and I already used it 20 years ago. I would assume either a temporary tattoo or a sticker. Decal of doom sounds cooler though, right?

Let's not forget those sweet sweet taglines I love so much. First up is on the front, "Tennis... Ping-Pong... Monsters, anyone?" Which I don't really get. Like I get those are some camp activities and also monsters which one normally wouldn't expect at camp but uhh... is this some sort of play on words I don't really understand? Or is it just dumb? The back is better with "it's not whether you win or lose- it's how you stay alive!" Now that I get. it's a play on a popular sportsmanship saying. It's clever! Well, as clever as these things can get. B+ for the back tagline, a big ol F for the front.

Now shall we get on in to it? How will Camp Jellyjam stack up against Camp Nightmare? The name is less spooky that's for sure. Will it turn out that everyone is aliens at the end? Because I might just quit this fucking blog as a whole if that happens, I swear. As Mr. Owl would say, let's find out!

Getting Goosebumps

Would you believe it this book stars generic tween siblings! Who'da guessed that? 12 Year old Wendy and 11 year old Elliot are on a road trip with their parents through Idaho and Wyoming. Unfortunately all there is to do in the car is look at cows and sheep. I guess their family couldn't afford Walkmen or Game Boys which were a lifesaver for me back during car trips of my youth. What they can afford, however, is a big ass trailer they are hauling. After enough whining the kids convince their parents let them ride back in the trailer. I assume the parents did it so they wouldn't have to listen to their stupid complaining. Whatever the reason, the kids enjoy their new found freedom with some arm wrestling until their mom starts driving backwards. Wait. No. The trailer came unhitched. That makes a lot more sense.

So you think they would die in a fiery crash or something, but no, the crash didn't seem to be that bad. Unfortunately instead of mom and dad coming to the rescue it is Buddy a counselor for King Jellyjam's Sports Camp. They've got all the sports! Even the ones they only air on ESPN 8. And for some reason Buddy thinks they should wait for their parents at camp. How far behind can there parents be? How long does it take to notice a huge ass trailer isn't behind you anymore? Surely they will be here any second. I guess 12 year olds are too dumb to realize this so they follow creepy Buddy into camp. They aren't even swayed by a little girl warning them to get out.

So what is camp like? Well there is the weird visage of "King Jellyjam" everywhere. He is some sort of weird purple blob with a crown and seems to be the camp's mascot. Their motto is, "Only the Best." Everywhere there are facilities for all different sports. You can do gymnastics, swimming, tennis, track, whatever you want. It's like the Rio Olympics without all the crime, pollution, and corruptions! Still, the camp counselors seem a little off. For example, Buddy the head counselor can't recall where he comes from when asked. A little odd. Also people seem a little intense about competing but hey I guess that's what sports are about.

So Wendy and Elliot get split up into boys and girls dorms. Our narrative follows Wendy as she is the main character here (and is telling the story in first person.) She meets her bunk mates when they lunge in at her in an apparent attack that turns out to be a lame predictable jump scare. Despite the rude introduction they seem to get along but the girls are way into competition. "Only the best!"

Wendy's first competition is a swimming race. Though she could win, her new pals seem to want to win so much she lets them beat her. Dierdre her bunkmate wins and receives a "king coin" for her troubles. If you get 6 of these you get to walk "the winners walk" whatever that is. Everyone here seems REALLY enthused about doing it. Holly the counselor shares her disappointment with Wendy but her not trying her hardest. ONLY THE BEST GOD DAMMIT!

So the weird cult-like vibe is permeating pretty hard right now. If that wasn't enough her brother Elliot turns up dead! Oh wait, he was just pretending to be unconscious on the ground. Uh... hilarious right? His pretend death doesn't seem to affect his ping pong skills though. While Wendy watches she is sure the much bigger and stronger opponent he faces. I didn't know bulk and strength were a major factor in ping pong... Anyway Elliot wins his first king coin. Hurray?

EARTHQUAKE! Yes out of nowhere the ground starts rumbling. The counselors assure the newcomers it's no big deal. Happens all the time. As if that means it's a-ok. Everyone goes back to what they are doing though. Wendy decides to call her parents. No not their cell phones. Remember this is the 90s, cell phones aren't a thing. Well I mean technically they exist but they are really expensive and unreliable. She is calling their landline to leave a message on this thing that is like voicemail except it uses a thing called a "tape" and it's called an "answering machine." Wild eh? Too bad her call is interrupted Dierdre. She won her 6th king coin. Time for the winners walk!

The ceremony is filled with pomp and circumstance... But not the song of that title, that's only for graduations and the entrance of the Macho Man Randy Savage. But there are trumpets, drums, and  torches lighting the way. The girls plan a  party back at their lodge. When they get to their room Dierdre is nowhere to be found. She must be found!

So the girls set out to find her. They dodge some people to stay undetected, nearly get attacked by bats, and endure another "earthquake." They don' find Dierdre though. What they find is the little girl Wendy saw at the start of book who warned her to get out of camp. She seems horrified and determined to get them all to leave camp immediately. She won't tell them why though. That would be too fucking convenient. They are convinced they've been caught by a counselor but really was just meeting up with another counselor. Meanwhile the little scared girl has vanished. The rest of the girls give up and go back to the cabin. Once their they find that all of Dierdre's stuff has moved out. Peculiar.

Next morning Wendy is in an understandable gloom but her brother is psyched for some more king coins. Buddy the creepy counselor showed up and has no recollection of Dierdre at all. His clipboard merely states that she is "gone." The little scared girl Alicia for that matter is also "gone." You'd think he could at least lie and say she went home if he was trying to cover up some horrible secret and didn't want anyone to know.

Everyone else is too concerned with competing to care about her problems. She tries to phone home but all the phones at camp just play a prerecorded message. Despondent she watches her brother lose a basketball game versus a much bigger opponent. Buddy "encourages" her to find a sport to compete in herself. By encourages I mean basically forces. King Jellyjam it seems, would not approve of her dilly dallying. She loses a tennis match. Then jones a softball team that also loses. King Jellyjam is gonna be pissed. Here is the thing though, when she was practicing batting she accidentally cracked Buddy right in the ribs and it didn't even phase him. Is he some kind of robot or something? Or just a major badass? All he does is give her batting advice. The next day the kids that took the winners walk that night all disappeared. Wendy is determined to do something about it and spends her softball time plotting instead of focusing. They lose again, naturally.

Meanwhile Elliot is mostly concerned about getting his sixth king coin. He does agree, however that is SLIGHTLY odd that it has been several days since they have heard from their parents (who should have found them within like, oh, 5 minutes?) And agrees that they will do something about it AFTER he wins his final king coin.

So Wendy decides to snoop. She follows some counselors to a secret meeting. Does she dare follow them into the mysterious building in the woods? Of course she fucking does, it would be a lame book if she didn't jeeze. What she saw inside was Buddy hypnotizing all the counselors into obeying their leader using the gold king coins. So are the king coins like... magic? Or is he using normal hyponsis and the coins are just what he uses as a focal point? Like how a guy who does it on stage might use a swinging pocket watch or something. I have no clue. It isn't clear. What is clear is that Wendy's loud sneeze gave her away. She tries to escape downstairs which is a very sound plan. The only entrance/exit is on the floor she is on. she is probably going into a basement. SO EASY TO ESCAPE LOCKED IN A BASEMENT. This basement, however, smells like shit. Why?

KING FUCKING JELLY JAM THAT'S WHY. A giant ugly ass slimey monster with a crown being mopped and washed by dozens of kids. So that's what that smell is. So that's where the kids are. Dierdre and Alicia are there. Snails are extruding from King Jellyjam's ... uh... skin... for some reason. Primarily to be gross I assume. Maybe he is the father of all snails though, what do I know? So if you haven't figured it out by now ONLY THE BEST kids get to be enslaved by King Jellyjam. He uses the the winners of 6 king coins to wash him down. He can't stand his own smell... apparently. So he needs to be washed constantly. Apparently kids who are good at sports are also the best washers? Listen, I don't know. This whole thing seems convoluted. You'd think he could just use any old kids do this. Hell, he could buy an automated car wash and sit in it, save himself the trouble.

So the kids decide to try to escape now. Why now? I don't really know. Apparently Wendy is the Spartacus they need to lead the revolution. Jellyjam lets out an earth rumbling roar. So that's what those earthquakes were. His caretakers get back to work but leave Wendy with the task of getting help. She escapes and finds Elliot who is running a race for his last coin. In an act of desperation she tackles the fuck out of him and hectically leads him to Jellyjam HQ.

Her plan is the following. 1) Stop washing him. 2) Everyone hit the deck and lie on the floor. 3) Let him die from his own horrible smell. Wait... what? That's stupid. Wait... shit... it worked? It seems so! Everyone being flat on the ground somehow made it impossible for him to grab them. Not washing him made his smell get so intense it literally choked him to death. How.


How could evolution breed such a creature that can't exist unless it has 24/7 wash downs. Like it literally can not exist for mere moments unless it is getting soaped down. How would such a thing ever come to survive and breed? Or let's just say you don't believe in evolution. Let's say you are more into creationism. What God would create such a foul beast that literally stinks itself to death. Furthermore how does smell kill? Surely there is something toxic in his fumes, so how is that not constantly killing the kids? It is asserted that his chamber smells terrible. Surely the toxins are everywhere throughout. And why don't the kids die when they stop washing and he stinks himself to death? Are tiny little humans more resilient that a giant slime monster that extrudes snails?

Well anyway when Jellyjam dies his hold over the counselors is broken. So I guess those coins were magic? Also the cops showed up because the nearby town started smelling like shit and they tracked it back to the camp. So they call all the moms and dads to pick up the kids. Turns out they called the camp several times but the counselors said they weren't there. Buddy shows up later at their house to apologize. He also offers Elliot his sixth king coin, which he claims was earned since he would have won the race if his sister hadn't tackled her. Elliot reluctantly accepts. What bad could come of it now that Jellyjam is dead... Wait, what is that horrible smell?

Brussels Sprouts. His mom is making brussel sprouts. The end.

What I Thought

Oooh boy. Once again it is really hard to not just go straight to the dumb ending. Of course like a fool I've already talked about a lot of my problems with the ending during the plot synopsis. I am bad at this.

Ok so to start we have a kind of silly way to separate the kids from their parents. It seems like it would be pretty obvious that the parents would realize very quickly that their trailer came unhitched. The kids should have realized their parents should have come for them quickly. Am I really pointing out how unrealistic and silly a Goosebumps book is? You bet your ass I am.

Once you get past that though, I like the bulk of this book. The weird cult like vibe is actually pretty interesting. You begin to wonder why everyone is so competitive. Is it just human nature? Is something more sinister at play? Are those freaking king coins magic? When the kids start disappearing you wonder whats up. Sure things could be done a little more eloquently but this is freaking Goosebumps.

What could have helped this story? Go to more extremes to show how much the competitive streak is taking over people (presumably through the magic of the coins.) Yes we see that everyone already there is super competitive. The way to do this would be through Elliot. He was pretty psyched about sports camp right from the beginning. If they had him reluctant to compete at first but have him win a king coin and start to turn, it could have been more interesting. Like at first he wins with a team sport like baseball where he doesn't contribute much, but winning gets him totally gun-ho about competition until he is in a frenzy that doesn't care about anything besides king coins.

Of course we come to the ending. I already said most of my piece on it. Revealing Jellyjam to be a real entity was fine in an of itself. Him enslaving humans was actually petty clever. It is what they were doing that was dumb. Washing him so he doesn't stink himself to death? It is hard to put into words how stupid that is. He could have been recruiting the best of the best to become warriors for own personal cult army. Or if that is too violent for the youngins, he could desire a human host body to rid himself of his putrid old slime one, and be looking for the best of the best determined through competition to inhabit. Maybe it could be like space jam and he is trying to form up the best basketball team of all time to take on the Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan? Seriously, anything besides stinking himself to death. No matter how ugly, gross, and massive a monster is, if not washing it for 20 seconds causes it to die due to its own foul odor, it just isn't that scary. So once again we have a ridiculous ending ruin what in my opinion was a pretty decent Goosebumps book.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Jelly/jams

Up Next

So I know this review was pretty late. I also know I've been sidetracked by other books lately, like the Galaxy of Fear and Goosebumps comic book one. While I have other series of Goosebumps to do, and some related books I'd like to cover I do want to get through all the original series books I own. Possibly even do all the original series and track down the ones I am missing. So I do want to do the next original series book review in June. That book is Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes. I love that premise. As usual I remember nothing about this book beyond the cover. I know I read it as a kid though. So look for that in June. And then in July when I obviously neglect to do it in June. After that I might do one of the other series like Goosebumps 2000 or Goosebumps Most wanted. We'll see. Thanks for reading.

April 20, 2017

Goosebumps Graphix #1 - Creepy Creatures

Yes yes, I am FINALLY updating again and you will notice this is a little bit different than the original series book I claimed I was going to cover next. Instead I got sidetracked by Goosebumps the graphic novel! Turning Goosebumps into a comic book makes an awful lot of sense, and this one promises 3 ghoulish tales.

This came out in 2006 which was about 10 years after the original series finished. I believe it came out sometime between Goosebumps 2000 and Goosebumps Horrorland. Interestingly though after 2000, all 3 stories in it are from the original run. There were 3 of these "graphix" adaptation books done in all. And that concludes the paragraph of stuff I looked up on a wiki to know wtf the deal with this is.

So you got your 3 unique monsters on the cover. The stories here are The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight, and The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena each adapted by a different illustrator. I got a used copy of this off of amazon that apparently came from the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library. Amusingly (to me) the sticker on it says "Goosebum" with no P. Hah hah. Bum.

Anyway 2 of these stories I've already covered in novel form. The third I intend to if I ever motivate myself to actually read these damn books. I presume the stories won't deviate too much from the source material so I won't spend a lot of time recapping the stories. Just a simple synopsis.

Getting Goosebumps

Story #1: The Werewolf of Fever Swamp

So these kids get forced to move to Florida due to their parents having a dubious swamp deer experiment. There are some new friends there who tell them that fever swamp got its name due to a historic plague there. At night, Grady the lead boy hears howling which is pretty predictable for a book about a werewolf. The presumed culprit of this noise is found in the morning and is a very large but seemingly friendly dog. Also there is a swamp hermit. Why not. After some barking, mischief and dead animals, naturally the dog is getting a lot of heat. Could the dog be the werewolf? Also there is that weird hermit, is he the werewolf? Nope, it's Grady's new friend Will who proves he' a shitty friend by chomping on Grady. The dog saves em, but as we see in the end, Grady becomes a werewolf ultimately.

What I Thought

Gabriel Hernadez who adapted this story apparently has illustrated several children's novels, as well as doing art for a Clive Barker graphic novel. His art style is somewhat serious and while not photo realistic or anything it has a certain "real" quality. Some of the art even succeeds in being creepy, as with the weirdo swamp hermit, or frightening like some bad ass scenes with the werewolf.

Sadly all the comics here are in black and white. While I understand it would probably cost more to print in color (and thus price themselves out of the market for kids) it would have been nice to see full color Goosebumps. That being said, black and white has a certain charm to it. It also has a nice association with horror, going back to the classic Universal Horror films such as the Wolfman which undoubtedly had some influence on Stine's writing.

Now it's been awhile since I've read this book, but from my memory (and a glance at a wiki synopsis) the script of this comic stays pretty true to the book. Naturally in this medium and with the length it is at (40-50ish pages) it probably had to cut some stuff but I couldn't pick out anything specifically they missed.

I think this was a pretty good story to start out the book with. Werewolves are a pretty familiar monster, and this story is a little less odd or... dumb... than many of 'bumps. Good pick for a comicization.

Story Numero Dos: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

A pair of siblings are visiting their grandparents farm. Stanley, the hired farmhand who is a bit... well uhh, how to put this in a politically correct world... Slow? Is slow acceptable to say? He's not so thinky. How about that? Well anyway he's superstitious fellow who followed some dubious instructions to make a shit ton of scarecrows. Apparently they even walk, though that just seems to be Stanley's son playing a prank. What a rascal. After his prank goes wrong the kids fall from their horses with minor injuries. It's payback time and the siblings plot to scare Stanley's son Sticks by dressing up a scarecrow themselves (how original) but in a twist of fate the scarecrows really do come to life and sticks ends up saving them! Stanley freaks out and tries to get them to obey him, but they think Mark, the brother dressed as a scarecrow is their leader (I didn't know sentient scarecrows had a hierarchy.) The clever solution of having him pull his head off so they all do the same didn't work, but trusty old fire does the trick. Stanley ultimately agrees not to use his scarecrow knowledge again but doesn't give up on the superstition book. Hey, what's the matter with this teddy bear??!?!

What I Thought

Greg Ruth does the art here and it is rather detailed and has a realistic feel. The shading and details can give off a rather creepy vibe. Not even just the monsters. Some of the facial expressions, especially from Stanley are subtly eerie. That added to the fact that everyone is acting just a little bit tense makes for some suspense. It is probably my favorite art of the bunch though maybe youngsters would prefer something cartoony?

Also, ultimately the scarecrow threat isn't that frightening to adult me, but perhaps 9 year old me would have been more spooked. I, however, am pretty confident in my ability to defeat a straw based lifeforms. I have been well versed in how to do so from the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Though even without fire I gotta believe even magic straw doesn't have that much mass to overcome. A strong breeze should be able to do the trick.

Now I know before I said it was a shame these weren't in color. I might amend that statement for this one. I feel like being in black and white is actually an advantage. The details and darkness in grey scale really make for a great horror atmosphere. It almost feels like it is too good for the admittedly simple and not great story line. I could almost imagine this being an old b-movie.

Shrek Story the Third: The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena

See now I haven't reread the novel version of this yet so oh man SPOILERS! So anyway, two siblings (why it is always two siblings?) go to a place they weren't before (Alaska) and my isn't this formula feeling fresh? Apparently the Abominable Snowman has been discovered and since iphones weren't a thing yet they need the kids dad to be a photographer for it. Father of the year award to bringing your kids to a yeti photo shoot. Nothing could go wrong. Their sled guide thinks the kids shouldn't be there. How unreasonable! Well of course the kids get lost alone, and fall into a pit with a frozen yeti. But he is apparently alive and likes trail mix. Once they get their dad to follow em there ol' Abomi is frozen again in a convenient chunk to ship back home to Pasadena. Naturally the kids show their friends and it ends with a magic snowball being thrown that freezes one of them which can only be healed by WARM ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN HUGS! After this the beast runs off into the sunny California wilderness. Dad is bummed but at least he has his pictures... But wait, none of the pictures actaully have the Snowman in them. Drat!

What I Thought

Scott Morse the illustrator here has a vastly different style than the other two artists in this book. It's very stylized and cartoony. While this is nice for a change of pace I am not a huge fan of the style. Now it's done just fine skill wise but I just don't dig the way it looks. Maybe it's the eyes. For some reason the eyes are just blank circles. No pupils. It's weird,but not in a good way. Even though the Abominable Snowman drawing is relatively bad ass, it's just kind of hard to be "scared"

Now I remember the novel of this story being at about the point I stopped reading Goosebumps as a kid. In addition to just getting "too old" for these stories, the formulaic nature of them and the fact that it was the 38th freakin' book just wore me down. If these comic versions weren't so short, I'd say the same thing had happened to be by story 3 of the book.

Still, I guess there are some key deference even if we are sticking to a formula. They took us to some very different locals. A swamp, a farm, and here the frigid arctic. The monsters are each relatively different. In fact that is probably the key reason Goosebumps has gotten away with making so many books. Just keep plopping out new monsters. As each bit of this adaptation is pretty short, it was pretty easy to plow through.

Now overall, this book as a whole? I think it was a pretty good experience. I think a comic version of Goosebumps is a pretty swell idea, and it was executed about as well as could be. Having 3 stories in one collection is a win for kids with only so much allowance to spend. I could see this being a good introduction for kids to the series, or a nice companion piece for kids who already like Goosebumps.

I am curious to read the other 2 graphic novels they released. Of course first I am planning to FINALLY get back and review one of the original series books. Sorry again that I am so lazy. I have been meaning to update this blog for months. I've got a stack of unread Goosebumps to get to, and I will really try to do so. Until then, thanks for reading.